Face to face with Count Dracula

A century after the publication of the legendary vampire novel, Mark Dudley follows in the footsteps of Bram Stoker's hapless character, Jonathan Harker. He found his copy of the book an ideal companion for a journey through the Carpathian mountains of Romania

25 July. Budapest.

"The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East; the most western of the splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule."

`Dracula'

I had come to Eastern Europe in search of becloaked gentlemen necking swooning maidens. Snag. I didn't realise that travelling to Transylvania via Budapest required a visa. And how the Rumanian Embassy hated dishing them out. In front of peeling, grey gates, about 50 people were assembled and only two were let in every half hour. I passed the time by talking to a teacher from Taiwan. She told me she had read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice three times. I told her I had read Dracula by Bram Stoker and that I was intending to follow Jonathan Harker's route. "Ahhh, Dracula," she said. "You send me a picture, yaaah!"

26 July. To Cluj-Napoca.

We... came after nightfall to Klausenburgh. Here I stopped for the night at the Hotel Royal. I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper which was very good but thirsty.

Caught the 1710 train from Platform 10 of Nyugati railway station. My smattering of German was most useful for finding out that Cluj-Napoca was the Rumanian name for Klausenburgh, the first port-of-call of Jonathan Harker. It made it so much easier when buying a ticket. On the train, two academics - a physics professor and a doctor - were returning home. They had attended a two week seminar in "strongly correlated systems" in Trieste and were eating salami sandwiches which reeked of garlic. Very apt. That would keep them away. My friends suggested I keep a piece of salami in my rucksack, a joke which kept them laughing until we reached Biharkeresztes three and a half hours later.

This was the Hungarian border. it took 20 minutes to get through to Episcopia Bihor on the Rumanian side. My friends were telling me how the real Dracula had been Vlad Tepes, a 15th-century ruling Rumanian prince who was known both as Vlad the Impaler and Dracula (or Son of the Dragon after his father, Vlad Dracul). Just as it was being explained how he used to impale enemies on a stake, the door burst open and a man asked if I wanted to change dollars.

Suddenly I was a rich man with 28,000 Lei in my pocket. My friends said I could live like a king. Present day Rumania is not the desert that Ceausescu left behind. You can now find food in the shops.

27 July. To Bistrita (Bistritz).

"Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel, which I found to my great delight, to be thoroughly old-fashioned, for of course I wanted to see all I could of the ways of the country."

It was two o'clock in the morning when we arrived in Cluj-Napoca. I had intended to sleep in the waiting room of the railway station but when I found a mass of snoring, huddled bodies there, I decided on platform one, instead.

I awoke feeling "nosferatu", or undead in Dracula-speak. A drunk was singing and I raised my head to see him trying to push over a train, so I went in search of coffee at the railway restaurant and found that all those sleeping bodies from the waiting room were now drinking Ursus Premium lager. It was six o'clock in the morning.

It took three more hours by train to cover the 110km to Bistrita, a town situated in the region of Bukovina. Great tracts of maize rolled by while peasants raked their hay on the slopes of the Carpathian hills, spiking it on fences or piling it into heaps. I was in search of the Golden Krone Hotel where Jonathan Harker had stayed. To my surprise, I learned from French-speaking locals that there was indeed a Hotel Coroana d'Or and it was, they told me, about a 20-minute walk away.

It was not the most picturesque of strolls. I passed block upon block of concrete apartments with washing hanging from the balconies and residents sitting on the steps. The hotel was better. Three flights of marble stairs with a TV and bath.

28 July. Hotel Dracula

"Suddenly I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky."

Left Bistrita for the Tihuta Pass at half past six in the morning. The bus was packed. Men with pinched faces and pixie-like women crammed on board. A woman with several gold teeth squashed herself in beside me, so that my rucksack was squeezed up around my head. It was all I could do to see the rolling mountains of pine, the valleys spilling away into the distance, the quaint Rumanian villages, the occasional white-spired church. Most of the time I had my nose squashed against a piece of red canvas.

It was eight o'clock in the morning when I saw the grey-stoned, multi- windowed Hotel Dracula rising above me. People pointed and nodded, jokingly making the sign of the cross. I noticed a red inscription on a cross saying DRACULA; just beyond this the bus stopped and I had to descend. Instantly, the roar of the bus had been replaced by a lone dog barking. And eerie silence ensued. I began to wish I had not got off that bus at all.

I trekked up to the drive and a dark sweep of sinister pine mountains and patchy-green valleys dotted with farmhouses spilled away to my right. At the gateway to the hotel, sadly, there was no "rattling of chains" or "clanking of massive bolts", as described by Stoker. No "tall old man... clad in black from head to foot" came to greet me.

Instead, I stepped into the courtyard and walked up a flight of marble steps. If I had wanted to stay, it would have cost me pounds 20 a night for a room and the freedom to leave as long as I paid the bill. In fact I just wanted breakfast.

It was only later, after dinner, that I began to wonder if I had met the real Count Dracula.

He hadn't been dressed in a black cloak. He had been wearing all white, and a chef's hat. He did however appear to very busily engaged in biting the neck of a swooning waitress. When he heard me stumble past, he raised his head with a devilish grin. Even in the 20th century, the vampire traditions of Transylvania die hard.

"The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East; the most western of the splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule."

`Dracula'

I had come to Eastern Europe in search of becloaked gentlemen necking swooning maidens. Snag. I didn't realise that travelling to Transylvania via Budapest required a visa. And how the Rumanian Embassy hated dishing them out. In front of peeling, grey gates, about 50 people were assembled and only two were let in every half hour. I passed the time by talking to a teacher from Taiwan. She told me she had read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice three times. I told her I had read Dracula by Bram Stoker and that I was intending to follow Jonathan Harker's route. "Ahhh, Dracula," she said. "You send me a picture, yaaah!"

26 July. To Cluj-Napoca.

We... came after nightfall to Klausenburgh. Here I stopped for the night at the Hotel Royal. I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper which was very good but thirsty.

Caught the 1710 train from Platform 10 of Nyugati railway station. My smattering of German was most useful for finding out that Cluj-Napoca was the Rumanian name for Klausenburgh, the first port-of-call of Jonathan Harker. It made it so much easier when buying a ticket. On the train, two academics - a physics professor and a doctor - were returning home. They had attended a two week seminar in "strongly correlated systems" in Trieste and were eating salami sandwiches which reeked of garlic. Very apt. That would keep them away. My friends suggested I keep a piece of salami in my rucksack, a joke which kept them laughing until we reached Biharkeresztes three and a half hours later.

This was the Hungarian border. it took 20 minutes to get through to Episcopia Bihor on the Rumanian side. My friends were telling me how the real Dracula had been Vlad Tepes, a 15th-century ruling Rumanian prince who was known both as Vlad the Impaler and Dracula (or Son of the Dragon after his father, Vlad Dracul). Just as it was being explained how he used to impale enemies on a stake, the door burst open and a man asked if I wanted to change dollars.

Suddenly I was a rich man with 28,000 Lei in my pocket. My friends said I could live like a king. Present day Rumania is not the desert that Ceausescu left behind. You can now find food in the shops.

27 July. To Bistrita (Bistritz).

"Count Dracula had directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel, which I found to my great delight, to be thoroughly old-fashioned, for of course I wanted to see all I could of the ways of the country."

It was two o'clock in the morning when we arrived in Cluj-Napoca. I had intended to sleep in the waiting room of the railway station but when I found a mass of snoring, huddled bodies there, I decided on platform one, instead.

I awoke feeling "nosferatu", or undead in Dracula-speak. A drunk was singing and I raised my head to see him trying to push over a train, so I went in search of coffee at the railway restaurant and found that all those sleeping bodies from the waiting room were now drinking Ursus Premium lager. It was six o'clock in the morning.

It took three more hours by train to cover the 110km to Bistrita, a town situated in the region of Bukovina. Great tracts of maize rolled by while peasants raked their hay on the slopes of the Carpathian hills, spiking it on fences or piling it into heaps. I was in search of the Golden Krone Hotel where Jonathan Harker had stayed. To my surprise, I learned from French-speaking locals that there was indeed a Hotel Coroana d'Or and it was, they told me, about a 20-minute walk away.

It was not the most picturesque of strolls. I passed block upon block of concrete apartments with washing hanging from the balconies and residents sitting on the steps. The hotel was better. Three flights of marble stairs with a TV and bath.

28 July. Hotel Dracula

"Suddenly I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky."

Left Bistrita for the Tihuta Pass at half past six in the morning. The bus was packed. Men with pinched faces and pixie-like women crammed on board. A woman with several gold teeth squashed herself in beside me, so that my rucksack was squeezed up around my head. It was all I could do to see the rolling mountains of pine, the valleys spilling away into the distance, the quaint Rumanian villages, the occasional white-spired church. Most of the time I had my nose squashed against a piece of red canvas.

It was eight o'clock in the morning when I saw the grey-stoned, multi- windowed Hotel Dracula rising above me. People pointed and nodded, jokingly making the sign of the cross. I noticed a red inscription on a cross saying DRACULA; just beyond this the bus stopped and I had to descend. Instantly, the roar of the bus had been replaced by a lone dog barking. And eerie silence ensued. I began to wish I had not got off that bus at all.

I trekked up to the drive and a dark sweep of sinister pine mountains and patchy-green valleys dotted with farmhouses spilled away to my right. At the gateway to the hotel, sadly, there was no "rattling of chains" or "clanking of massive bolts", as described by Stoker. No "tall old man... clad in black from head to foot" came to greet me.

Instead, I stepped into the courtyard and walked up a flight of marble steps. If I had wanted to stay, it would have cost me pounds 20 a night for a room and the freedom to leave as long as I paid the bill. In fact I just wanted breakfast.

It was only later, after dinner, that I began to wonder if I had met the real Count Dracula.

He hadn't been dressed in a black cloak. He had been wearing all white, and a chef's hat. He did however appear to very busily engaged in biting the neck of a swooning waitress. When he heard me stumble past, he raised his head with a devilish grin. Even in the 20th century, the vampire traditions of Transylvania die hard.

Fact file

The Hotel Dracula

The Hotel Dracula is situated in the Bargaulul Mountains, a range which links Transylvania with Bukovina. It was opened in 1983 and has 62 double room with full amenities.

Dracula's castle

Vlad Tepes was born in Sighisoara, a medieval town in Transylvania. The ruins of his citadel is in Poienari, a two and a half hour drive from Brasov, the main Transylvanian town. There is another in Bucharest. Meanwhile the Hotel-Castel Dracula (Tel: 0040 632 6684) lies half hour's drive from Brasov.

Visas

If driving or flying to Romania, visas can be picked up at the border. If going by train, apply in advance to the Romanian Embassy, 4 Palace Green, London W8 4QD (open to visitors 10-12am, Monday to Friday). The Romanian National Tourist Office is on 0171-224 3692.

Further reading

`Dracula' by Bram Stoker (Penguin classics, pounds 2.50) is available from bookshops.

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